By Emmanuel Aziken, Abuja
The unprecedented Senate resolution empowering Vice President Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President of the country was achieved through an unprecedented consensus that defied many political boundaries.
The Senate momentum to fill the vacuum in the presidency was coordinated under the aegis of the National Interest Group (NIG), a group that was formed only last month. Remarkably, the formation of the group became the first major breach in the two year -hegemony Senator David Mark had until now stamped on the Senate.
A veteran of the many political crises that bestirred the Senate in the period between 1999 and 2007, Senator Mark on his ascent to the Senate presidency had moved to block all the major areas of discontent as it were, packing safely away, the banana peels that brought down his predecessors.
The sort of confidence Senator Mark had was unprecedented for a Senate President in the Fourth Republic.
It was thus not surprising that when the first motion to debate the absence of President Umaru Yarâ€˜Adua from the country was brought to the Senate chambers last December that Senator Mark easily sided with the strong lobby mounted by the pro-Yarâ€˜Adua group in the Senate.
There were many reasons for Senator Mark to identify with the President, foremost of which was the Senate Presidentâ€™s strong desire not to feed the impression of power hunger that many traducers had sought to imprint on him.
Another reason was the alleged sympathy and support President Yarâ€˜Adua had for the Senate President at the peak of the election petition case instituted against Markâ€™s election as a Senator representing Benue South senatorial district.
While many Senators and Nigerians were last December occupied with speculations on the health of the President, Senator Mark became the leading motivator for the prayer warriors conscripted to pray for the ailing President.
â€œSince the President left for Saudi Arabia for medical check up, the organs of government have remained intact and functional.
But in spite of this, some Nigerians have resorted to all kinds of rumours that can neither strengthen our development processes nor guarantee our much sought reforms. I urge you to ignore these rumour mongers as they do not mean well for our country and her people,â€ Mark was quoted as saying in a press statement issued by his Special Adviser on Media, Mr. Kola Ologbondinyan barely a week after President Yar`Adua left for his medical treatment.
Senator Mark was to further urge Nigerians to engage in prayers for Mr. President, particularly requesting the Novena prayer for the quick recovery of President Yarâ€™Adua.
Novena prayer is a Roman Catholic prayer said over nine consecutive days, weeks or months.
For most of December as the condition of the President moved into deeper uncertainty, the Senate President toned down his supplications for prayers.
When last month it was reported by a member of the Yarâ€˜Adua kitchen cabinet, Dr. Tanimu Yakubu, the Chief Economic Adviser that Yarâ€˜Adua had spoken to Senator Mark and Speaker Dimeji Bankole, it raised some apprehension among some in the Senate as Senator Mark did not himself confirm the alleged dialogue.
His close associates, pressed on the issue, notably played down the matter.
When the Senate resumed from the Yuletide on January 12, 2009 and with the pressure from the civil society community apparently putting the Senate in negative light, the Senate President allowed a motion by his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, seeking to send a delegation to find out the state of health of the President.
Senator Markâ€™s handling of the debate was notably tight as he affirmed that sections 143, 144 and 145 respectively dealing with impeachment, the appointment of a medical board and the transmission of a letter of medical vacation should not be brought up.
The Senate eventually ruled out proposals on sending a team to Saudi Arabia in favour of an invitation to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) to brief the Senate on the matter.
Perhaps, matters would have simmered at that level but for a court injunction allegedly procured by the office of the Attorney General which mandated the Vice-President to execute the duties of the President without conferring the title of Acting President on the Vice-President.
The judgment on January 13 was received with anger by many Senators who immediately met to share opinions. The meeting was carried out to the residence of one of the Senators, reportedly Senator Ehigie Uzamere. As many as 48 Senators were said to have joined the group that evening.
Among the group were some notable young turks in the Senate, including Senators Nazif Sulieman (AC, Bauchi), Bala Mohammed (ANPP, Bauchi), Smart Adeyemi (PDP, Kogi West), Gainyu Solomon (AC, Lagos), Nimi Barigha_Amange (PDP, Bayelsa) and Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello (PDP, Ogun Central) who were reportedly the live wire of the group. Senator Uche Chukwumerije (PPA, Abia North) a veteran in the Third Term battle was by several accounts a consultant to the group.
Senator Chukwumerijeâ€™s role in this battle was remarkably different from his role in the third term agitation, according to multiple sources within the group. Whereas he was a prominent and visible personality in the third term agitation, Chukwumerije this time played a double role as consultant and conciliator.
â€œChukwumerije was our consultant,â€ one frontline member of the group told Saturday Vanguard. But other sources say that Chukwumerije played a decisive role in forging the Senate resolution that eventually emanated from the group.
As the numerical strength of the NIG increased, there was understandably serious reason for concern in the Senate leadership, especially as the group was championed by people that were ordinarily not members of Markâ€™s kitchen cabinet.
One strategy of the NIG was to win the confidence of the Senate President was the continued assurance that they were not after his job. One way they were able to convey this was through the recruitment of some close associates of the Senate President into the group.
Senator Joel Danlami (PDP, Taraba) a rabid and passionate acolyte of Senator Mark was particularly useful.
â€œOf course, we know Danlami and we did not mind that he was reporting back to the Senate President but then he was part of us,â€ one of the major activists in the group told Saturday Vanguard.
There was, of course, some reason for concern from the Senate President on the intent of some members of the group.
The leading role of Senator Smart Adeyemi, a former President of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) in the groupâ€™s affairs, according to some sources, aroused fears that Senator Adeyemi may have defected from being a supporter of Mark and turned against him.
The concern about Senator Mark, it was learnt, may have been fuelled by insinuations in some quarters conveyed in some news publications that Mark had a secret agenda to become President of the country. There were suspicions that the publications were inspired by associates of Governor Bukola Saraki who it was alleged perceived Mark to be a stumbling block to his potential run for the presidency in 2011.
Governor Saraki, who is serving his last term as Governor of Kwara State, is politically close to Senator Adeyemi through his father, Dr. Olusola Saraki, the godfather of politics in Kwara State where Adeyemi is mostly based.
The little rupture between the Senate President and Senator Adeyemi, according to sources has, however, been patched up.
The patching up of relations between Senators Adeyemi and Mark also shadowed the convergence of reasoning between Senator Mark and the Governors who initially were opposed to the empowerment of the Vice-President as Acting President.
Governors apparently having realized that the end of the Yarâ€˜Adua era was at hand, quickly changed tact with an encouragement to the National Assembly to pass a motion recognising Dr. Jonathan as Acting President.
The Governors were reported to have met the Senate President last weekend on the issue but according to some normally reliable sources, Mark demurred as he asked that the Governors should make the request before a larger gathering of Senators.
Meanwhile, members of the NIG were tracking the development in the camp of the Senate President and quickly moved in for the kill.
Last Monday, while the Senate leadership reviewed the situation in the residence of the Senate President, another meeting of the NIG took place about 8 kilometers away in Jabi. There were consultations between both camps as the letters of the motion were agreed.
In a matter of modesty, the NIG deferred to the Senate Leader, Senator Teslim Folarin the right to sponsor the motion which accepted the Presidentâ€™s interview on BBC on January 12 as the transmission of his ill-health.
It was rather ironic. Senator Folarin had, according to many sources, been opposed to the enthronement of Jonathan as Acting President!
Some of the major forces behind the resolution
Senator Bala Mohammed (ANPP, Bauchi South); Chairman, NIGSenator Mohammed was probably the first to commence the momentum for the transfer of power to Dr. Jonathan. He was to be formally crowned as the Chairman of the NIG when Senators Uzamere and Nazif Sulieman reportedly declined and passed over the leadership role to him at a meeting on January 18.
Senator Mohammed is said to have an immense capacity for tactical mobilization and was said to have astutely repelled insinuations that transfer of power to Jonathan would be a loss to the North.
His life according to reports were threatened on account of his role. Senator Mohammed before now was already engaged in other struggles having been entangled in a clash with Governor Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State. He believes that his enemies from the pro_Yarâ€˜Adua camp or political foes from Bauchi State are behind the threats.
Senator Smart Adeyemi (PDP, Kogi West), Secretary NIG
Senator Adeyemi is the secretary of the NIG and was by most accounts one of the most radical Senators in the group unyielding to the entreaties of the pro_Yarâ€˜Adua group. His steadfastness and extremism to the enthronement of Dr. Jonathan was said to have brushed negatively on some powerful elements in the Senate.
Senator Ehigie Uzamere (PDP, Edo South)
Senator Uzamereâ€™s role as one of the facilitators of the NIG defied the trend of his colleagues from Edo State who stood against the aspirations of the group largely on account of their deference to Chief Tony Anenih, a close associate of members of the Yarâ€˜Adua kitchen cabinet. Senator Uzamere, according to sources hosted many of the meetings of the NIG.
Senator Uche Chukwumerije (PPA, Abia North)
He was a major force in the NIG acting, according to multiple sources as a consultant to the group. He, however, played the role of elder-statesman as he helped in moderating the voice of the more radical elements in the group. Chukwumerije it was learnt, pleaded that the insistence of the members of the Yarâ€˜Adua kitchen cabinet that no letter of transmission to empower Vice President Jonathan as Acting President could sustain the logjam and probably lead to the break up of the country.
One source involved said that Chukwumerije told the Senators that he having fought one civil war did not want other Nigerians to go through the harrows of another civil war. He as such was reported to have helped fashion out the compromise to allow the Presidentâ€™s interview as a letter.
Senator Iyabo Obasanjo_Bello (PDP, Ogun Central)
Senator Obasanjo_Bello was one of the most consistent members in meetings of the NIG and her presence served as a level of comfort to many Senators in the hope that she was a point between the pro_Yarâ€˜Adua Senators and her father, the immediate past President.